Monday, October 21, 2013

Year of the Blog; or, Reflections

One year ago I started this goofy blog as a means to keep up with family and friends. I hoped to post a few pictures, tell a few stories, and let everyone know that we are absolutely okay, despite living in a place most people don't know much about.

In the process, I've gotten back in touch with people from my childhood, former students, and former colleagues. We have received sweet notes of encouragement and amazing care packages from all over. I've even gotten a few suggestions for grammar and spelling corrections. :) We are blessed to have such a strong support system of friends and family to help us along the way.

In this crazy journey I've also found other people who are living and working in schools overseas, including a former student who is teaching art in Croatia. I would love to be able to visit with him and meet his wife, also a teacher, if we ever get to that part of Europe. I have been been helped tremendously along the way by some amazing friends who have both taught in Germany. They have moved from one end of the country to another, and their observations about life and culture overseas always keep me laughing (and inspire me to get my family to somewhere where we can experience more of the local culture). As I was leaving Texas, another colleague accepted a job to Morocco and is now teaching there. I should mention that one of the places I most want to visit is Marrakech (blame it on Indiana Jones), so I am in total awe of her experiences. When I complain about hardships here, I have to really shut up because I could be in Uganda like one of my former teacher/librarian colleagues who is doing amazing work with Libraries of Love (look it up!). And now, I am really looking forward to hearing from a Cuba colleague who sadly left us, but will be moving to Zambia in a few weeks to teach.

The point is this: the world is there for the taking. There are opportunities out there if you want to serve the military as a DoDDS teacher, or if you want to work for charitable educational organizations, or if you want to work for a private international school. All give you opportunities to travel and see the world (although, ironically, I am at the one place where you really can't do that). I have hope that we will one day move on, and I am going to enjoy every minute while we are here.

One of the big catch phrases of education the last few years has been "digging data." All apologies to my teacher friends---that phrase probably makes you want to gag and/or puke. Sorry. But here are some numbers from the year of the blog:

Blog views, as of this very minute: 8,601

Followers: 13

Visitors are most often from: US (duh), Germany (yes, we know people there), and Russia. Russia? Would someone from Russia message me so I know you really exist?

My favorite post so far? It would be the very bittersweet story of my childhood neighbor Todd, who died suddenly this past year. It was by far the easiest one to write---what you read is pretty much the first and only draft. I woke up my husband pounding away on the laptop keyboard after midnight---blogging is a good cure for insomnia (as I'm sure reading some of these entries are, as well). As a result of this post, I've gotten back in touch with his mom and sisters and met his fiancé--yes, more bittersweetness. ("Goodbye; or, For Todd")

My other favorite entry also has nothing to do with Gitmo, but it about my thoughts on being a wanderer instead of a nester ("The question I hate; or, (d) none of the above").

The two Cuba entries I like most are the story about my son having "drive by friends" ("Drive-bys in Gitmo; or, How a Gang Took My Youngest and Brought Back Pigpen") and the story about the crazy Christmas parade where we left a little beaten up ("Merry Christmas Parade! or, How I Survived a Drive-by Assault").  Is it a coincidence that both entries have the word "drive-by" in the title? What does that say about me???

Anywho,here's a quick rundown of the last year, in 59 blog posts. Excuse the overuse of "I" and "me," and please accept that I don't use my family members' names/faces on here because they would have their own blogs if they wanted everyone in their business. (If you do want to see more of my dashingly handsome guys, you can always check out my facebook page).

October 2012:
1. I arrived in Cuba in one piece
2. I got ready for a hurricane
3. I survived Hurricane Sandy
4. Travel complications and delays with my family
November 2012:
5. Kids arrive, just in time for Halloween, Gitmo style
6. Our family takes our first trip to the beach
7. I list the good, the bad, and decide we're entered a time warp
8. We have our first hutia encounter, and we buy a car
9. My son's merman moves finally pay off
10. I dig up trees out of a stranger's yard
December 2012:
11. We go to one of the weirdest Christmas parades ever
12. There is no crack at Gitmo, but there is Whitney Houston in Cuba
13. Our mail goes to Oman---lost mail story, take 1
14. Gitmo is not Cuba
15. 15K lbs of our fine quality junk finally make it to Cuba
January 2013
16. The unpacking and purging begins
17. More unpacking and the bread shortage begins
18. My youngest child joins a gang
19. I contemplate "home" 
20. Some things never change, but the few surprises are sweet
21. I finally find Rodney, our squirrel 
February 2013
22. There are more things to love here to add to the list
23. Our school is different than your school
24. I am doing lots of running (and thinking)
25. We go to a Mardi Gras celebration
March 2013
26. The banana rats start to grow on me
27. I am still unpacking, and we do a crazy fun run
28. I take a fun trip to Leeward on the ferry 
29. More new experiences, including a 5K, and we get a new car
30. I try my hand at more gardening
April 2013
31. I get all crafty
32. More lessons learned and my parents visit
33. We celebrate our 6 month Gitmo anniversary
May 2013
34. Analogy time! This one is my dream destination = large supermarket
35. I actually talk about books and my job
36. I'm becoming my mom, and that's not a bad thing.
37. I go on some very unique and fun field trips
June 2013
38. More arts and crafts! 
39. Pictures and stories about some wildlife we've encountered
40. I find hidden treasure in strange places
41. We save a baby bird! 
July 2013
42. I lament the lack of groceries
43. Lost mail story, take 2 and 3 (Spain, Italy)
44. First trip back to the U.S. in 9 months (aka culture shock)
45. Reflections on a whirlwind trip to the US and back
August 2013
46. Goodbye to a childhood friend
47. More frustrations with---you guessed it---groceries and mail
48. First time visits to a new (for us) beach and my first fenceline tour
49. What I didn't do on vacation
50. I consider killing a wild chicken
September 2013
51. Anniversary of a job offer, and some reflections
52. A crazy first few weeks back on the job
53. Lost mail story, take four (Egypt) 
54. Scuba diving mishaps
55. Fun terrorism training
October 2013
56. The government shutdown comes to Gitmo
57. We sell our house
58. Fun R & R times
59. Happy 1 year GTMOversary to us! (including a video)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Yo Viviré; or, Happy Anniversary!

Yesterday, the 19th, was my one year GTMOversary!

Time has flown.

Enjoy the video, and crank up your speakers for the Queen of Salsa.

(If you can't get the embedded video to open, click on the link underneath the video box).

Yo Viviré from LuLu Lock on Vimeo.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Covering lots of ground; or, Feet, feet, and more feet

Been covering lots of ground this week (warning, many feet pictures involved)

With much giddiness (and a little nervousness) I made my return to soccer after exactly a year away from the game. I've been hesitant to play here for fear that I would be playing much younger, faster, and tougher women, and many of them are all of the above. But so what?  I have missed the camaraderie that comes with playing on a women's sports team. I never played organized soccer until I was in my early 30s, and I'm thankful for my soccer-fanatic husband who pushed me into taking up the sport way back when and has been very supportive all along.  We tied our first game last Thursday night, and I'm looking forward to more games with the women's recreational soccer league here.

There was today's holiday. I'm not going to get into the Columbus Day holiday (the good, the bad, and the ugly of CC himself), even though he did, in fact, land here in Guantánamo Bay for a brief day or so before moving on to bigger and better things; or that the entire base was without electricity from 4 am until 4 pm today and it was hotter than 7 hells. Yes, you read that right. Happy holiday to us! After a nice early dive with my oldest, the day just got hotter, as the youngest, my husband, and I joined some of my work people for a photography scavenger hunt.  For a few hours this morning I got to finally get a good look at a few landmarks I pass every day.

There is this shrine: 

There are no markers at this little shrine that I pass at least once a week, but I think she may be a copy of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre. I didn't get a picture of the offerings and candles on the ground underneath, which are as intriguing to me as the statue. Maybe it was seeing the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico, D.F. as a teenager (and my first trip inside a cathedral) that hooked me, or perhaps it was the images of Mary all over Mexico when I lived in Cuernavaca in the early 90s, but I'm intrigued and drawn to any shrines of Mary and always want to stop for a look. Although I am not Catholic, I've spent enough time in Latin American countries that I really do love the reverence for Mary (sometimes mixed with native religions) that I haven't seen as often in the United States. 

You know you are on a Naval base when. . . 

you see anchors every where you go. This was one of 10 or so we had to find. Not as easy as you'd think, considering there are so many of them in many styles at many locations. And yes, the shoe is intentional---we had to have something in the pic to prove we took it today, so I chose my shoe, since my big feet were there and nobody else really wanted to jump in and out of the Jeep 20+ times in the hot weather.  

We also have a few canons here. . .

and this marker I pass all the time when I'm running. I had heard stories about Marines being killed on the fenceline (including Marines killed while trying to deactivate the hundreds of land mines) and I'm sad to say that I never stopped to read the marker. I'm glad now that I did. 

He was only 29, and would have probably retired by now, had he lived and continued to serve in the Marines. 

We are coming up fast on our 1 year GTMO anniversary, and I was pleasantly surprised that we knew  all but a small handful of the 37 landmarks' locations. I think that running (okay, jogging) all over the base, combined with getting out and going to the beaches (and every where else we can go) has really made us feel like we are a part of this place now. Or maybe it's a part of us. All I know is I was surprised at the people who have lived here much longer than I who couldn't identify but a few landmarks. It goes back to getting out of your comfort zone and jumping in with two feet---I am glad my family is with me on this crazy adventure, sometimes leading the way, and other times following me. 

And at the end of the day----I am always happy to kick off my shoes and come back home. The grass is finally growing, the flower bed the hutias plowed through a couple of months back is slowly recovering, and I am always looking for an excuse to get outside, soak up the sun, and kick back in my flip flops.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Homeless; or, Treading lightly

As I told a friend this week, homelessness has never felt so good.

Let me back up---

Eleven years ago we took a huge leap of faith and without selling our house or getting jobs, we packed up all of our belongings and our one child and moved from WA to TX. It was scary, it was exciting, it was expensive, and in hindsight, it was a little crazy. We found a house in TX we liked and bought it, sold our WA house, and found work rather quickly. Things seemed to be going along swimmingly. 

We closed on our WA house and I started a new job the next week. My second day on the job,  I was rear-ended on the way to work. Two days later, my father-in-law died. I should mention, he was the main reason we moved to Texas. 

We were thrown for a loop but decided there was no going back, set down roots, a couple of years later upgraded to a larger house, and decided that we needed another child to make our little family complete. That house became our home for the next eight years, until we made another (crazy?) move to Cuba.

My parents have lived in the same house since 1975. It was the third home I had ever lived in, if you count an apartment we lived in for a few months while waiting to move into that house. It's gotten new carpet, new tile, new wooden floors; it's been added onto, expanded, gutted, and rebuilt; and it was my only house for all twelve years of school until I went to college. Most people can't say that. 

I still sleep in the same bedroom as when I was a first grader when I go back to visit. 

And my oldest son had a very similar experience with our last home in Texas. He moved there at the end of his first grade year (the week of his 7th birthday), and we lived in that same house until we moved here. 

I loved that house, with its amazing tile that the builders brought up from Mexico when it was being built in the 1960s. I loved the beamed ceilings and stucco fireplace. 

There was the nice front porch for watching kids as they played football, and a long driveway that curved around to a rear garage. Both of my kids learned to ride their bikes in that driveway.

My favorite thing about the house was the front yard---two large pecan trees and an oak tree that was huge. The acorns were the size of my thumb. 

School-house lilies---heritage bulbs leftover from the days that our lot was a farm, no doubt---would peek up every August and sometimes, again in May. I loved them, too. 

Selling a house is always a bittersweet experience for me. I have loved things in every single house we've lived in.

The Colorado Springs house? LOVED the kitchen. It was a small galley kitchen but everything was perfect. I also loved having a basement (even though the furnace scared me to death, I'm not going to lie).

The Washington house? I loved the back porch and deck my husband built. In typical hubby fashion, he had an idea, he drew it out quickly, he made ONE trip to the hardware store and in a day, it was done.  I also miss my huge bathtub---not great for conserving water, but damn, sometimes you just want a serious bubble bath.

The Texas house, version one? The 1950 bungalow was perfect---for a small family. The original wooden floors that had never been shellacked (only oiled) and the wood trim throughout were beautiful. I loved the funky 50s formica with the atomic design.

Then there was our last house---the longest we have lived in one place since we married over 20 years ago. We brought home a beautiful, big, joyful baby boy there in 2005.  We had bouncy houses and piñatas under the large oak for 2 boys' birthday parties. I never mastered backing the boat out of the long driveway, but I never hit the telephone at the end of the drive, either---a plus.

We lost a dog living in that house and gained a child. I celebrated holidays in that house with my grandfather, who I think about and miss every single day. I pulled many late nighters finishing up grad classes so I could change careers and become a librarian while living there.

We shared many noisy, happy, and child-filled celebrations with our Texas family there, and I was the happiest when we had everyone around our dining room table.

Texas is our home of record, and is our last US home. After ten years there, I still don't feel like a Texan---but I did give birth to one, and perhaps he'll feel the pull for Texas as I do for Mississippi (and, to some extent, our oldest feels for Washington State). I left many people I love there, and I have many reasons to go back to visit. We just knew that keeping a house there was impractical and not financially prudent, so selling it was ultimately the best decision we could make for our family.

It was a good house, and it was a great home. Here's to the next family filling it with laughter and love.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Adventures in Shutdown Land; or, No MARC for you!!!

Hello, I am your host for tonight's episode of, "What has the Government Shutdown done for me?"

Are you excited yet?

Exhibit one: my television.

I know you are thinking, "So. Freakin'. What. It's just television."

You try living somewhere where you have limited cable television (we refuse to buy an obnoxious, 8 foot, 1980s style dish required for satellite here). No more network television. Just as well, since I really don't want my blood to boil any more than possible when the news turns to Congress.

Exhibit two: my work.

The backbone of what librarians do is write something called MARC (MAchine Readable Catalog) records. You have lots of fields you fill out using several different guidebooks for call numbers, subject headings, and rules of punctuation, capitalization, spacing, etc. Doesn't this look exciting?

MARC record for To Kill a Mockingbird---writing these makes me very happy. 

It's time consuming and I LOVE IT because I'm that much of a nerd. But I don't have a lot of time, so I use what most librarians use---Library of Congress.

Yes, your tax dollars for the Library of Congress are well-used. I access the records several times a week. It's the go-to guide for law librarians, school librarians, public librarians, archivists, and special collections librarians.

And this is what happened after the shut-down.

This sucks.

My parents have had a tripped planned for months to California and their first day at Yosemite, they were greeted with a CLOSED sign.

Oh, and the biggie:
I work, but I don't get paid. In theory, Congress will pass legislation to retroactively pay us for the work we are doing now (and not getting paid for doing).

Did you catch that? I get to work but I don't get paid until this mess is over. Who knows when that will be. (Nevermind that Congress gets paid now and doesn't really work). I am "excepted." Long ago, they used to use the terms "essential" and "non-essential" personnel, which hurt a lot of people's feelings because nobody wants to feel they are non-essential (and thus, not paid during a shutdown). So now instead of being essential, I am excepted. Ridiculous PC rewording, ridiculous that we are even talking about working and not getting paid for it.

We have students with both parents working as civilians on post and BOTH are furloughed. Furlough means you don't get to work AND you don't get paid.

So I will take a delayed paycheck over no paycheck any day. I say that in all sincerity. I am happy our military folks are not facing financial burdens right now---if you are military or have worked with military families, you know what a very stressful life it can be with frequent deployments and the like.  I am frustrated that this situation has occurred, but I am reminded daily by the worried faces of some of the kids at school that my life could be much worse.

Keep them in your thoughts.